Cameras capture suspect accused of setting church on fire


RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – A 23-year-old Rio Rancho man is facing federal charges after he’s accused of setting a church on fire.

Surveillance cameras from the non-profit right next to the church caught clear pictures of the suspect early Monday morning.

“We have cameras all over our facility,” said Kathleen Holmes Cates, CEO of LifeROOTS.

The man caught on camera, however, either didn’t notice them or didn’t care.

Cates said the man set off an alarm at 2:30 a.m. in Rio Rancho on Monday at LifeROOTS, a non-profit serving people with disabilities.

“I did a drive-by, and I didn’t see anything.”

Just a few hours later, firefighters saw something.

As Rio Rancho firefighters returned to the fire station from another call, they saw Peace Lutheran Church, right next to LifeROOTS, was on fire

“It is so sad to see those images of the church. It’s such a big beautiful church, a giant stained glass window,” Cates said. “We were happy we had that video. Police were able to capture it on a flash drive.”

Surveillance captured a man with a backpack and a hammer, which investigators found in the church.

Law enforcement says it’s 23-year-old Gordon Schuler, who’d just gotten out of jail a week earlier and didn’t show up to probation.

They recognized him because court documents show that this time last year, he is accused of doing the same thing. He was arrested for arsons and burglaries in the area.

This time, however, the case is federal.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is charging Schuler with destroying a building used in interstate commerce because Peace Lutheran Church in Rio Rancho is part of a larger one based out of state.

“We don’t want an arsonist living in the community. I think it is very frightening because it’s a compulsion that is extremely dangerous,” Cates said. “It’s destruction for destruction’s sake.”

At least one of the homes that Schuler was arrested for setting on fire last year is just a half mile away from Peace Lutheran Church.

Police say a warrant for Schuler’s phone last summer showed he was searching, “Rio Rancho arsonist,” and looking at news stories about the fires.

A criminal complaint states that even before that, Schuler had a history of setting fires as a juvenile.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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